Advancements in video game technology have given us unlimited possibilities for high quality entertainment. The drive of the AAA tech giants and the hearts of every indie developer have already given us more content than we could possibly dream of experiencing. With all of these virtual worlds, stories, and adventures… why would we ever find ourselves sitting around a table?
When it comes to entertainment, the tabletop medium still holds a large sway over where people spend their time. Why they do so is an important question for developers of both virtual and physical games. Understanding the reasons behind this choice can help us develop better content for both.
There’s nothing video games can’t do, and generally do better, than tabletop, in terms of mechanics, graphics, and immersion. Tabletop RPGs can claim that their “loose rules” style is nearly impossible to mimic in a video game, but the bookkeeping, character placements, and even visual aids can be done “better” with the assistance of virtual content.
Luckily for tabletop, there are two things that it does have over it’s cyber-based sibling: face-to-face time with people, and a player-focused approach to entertainment.
We can have as many online and virtual meeting experiences we want, but being face to face always gets more personal; the participants get more out of it. Couch co-op video games have this advantage over the rest of the market. This personal, shared experience is even why we watch TV or movies in the same room as each other. But tabletop puts the entertainment in between people, rather than in another direction. It’s not just a shared time-space, it’s a social connection through a simple catalyst.
Which is where player-focused design comes in. Even the fanciest board games, with complicated rules, hundreds of miniatures, and thousands of dollars of professional art, produce an experience where the game is secondary to the players’ interaction. You are forced to look at the other players (or at the very least be in their presence). You are forced to communicate with them, in order to keep the game moving. With video games, the screen is the focus; you never need to look at the other players, and the machine abstracts away most communication and game flow.
Much like the most common go-to, alcohol, tabletop games are a social lubricant that can bring together strangers and families alike. We can “pick our poison” and share that poison with good company (and normally less caustic side effects). Knowing this helps developers design the right systems for both tabletop and digital consoles.